How Does Household Crowding Affect Education Outcomes?

How Does Household Crowding Affect Education Outcomes?
Leonard M. Lopoo, Andrew S. London
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From 2003 to 2009, the number of American households containing multiple families tripled. Crowded housing (when a household has more members than rooms) is most common among low-income families, is concentrated among younger people, and is frequently a response to unaffordable housing. Early exposure to crowding can affect health, developmental, social, and economic outcomes later in life. This study examined how crowding from birth to age 18 affects high school graduation status by age 19 and maximum educational attainment at age 25. The authors used US longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and tried to remove the influence of low socioeconomic status and housing cost burden. They measured crowding by dividing the number of people in a family by the number of rooms to measure people per room and then created several measures to explore potential influences of crowding on educational outcomes, including the mean household crowding ratio from a child’s birth to age 18 and a variable that measures the proportion of years between birth and age 18 that the child lived in crowded housing. Then, the authors estimated the relationship between the mean housing crowding ratio and each of the two educational outcomes. They broke down their estimate based on four developmental stage–specific age groupings: early youth (birth to age 4), youth (ages 5 to 9), adolescence (ages 10 to 14), and high school years (ages 15 to 19). Because education is a significant determining factor of economic well-being and other outcomes, the study’s findings suggest that household crowding during high school years might contribute to inequality over a person’s life.

Key findings:

  • Housing crowding is strongly and independently associated with a child’s socioeconomic status.
  • Children who live in a crowded household at any time before age 19 are less likely to graduate from high school and have lower educational attainment at age 25.
  • High school graduation status is not as strongly associated when socioeconomic status and crowding before age 4 are considered, but for the maximum education outcome, crowding is strongly and negatively associated with the highest education completed by age 25.
  • When the authors estimated the differences in high school completion based on crowding at the four development stages, they found a strong relationship only for crowding during the high school years.
  • Public housing officials could consider allocating more space for families with children ages 15 to 19 for their future economic well-being.